One of the questions I get asked most is what camera to buy for timelapse photography. It's a question that I can't answer as I've shot timelapse on everything from a Canon AE1 to the Phase One - it's all down to personal taste and experimentation. If you're starting out on a limited budget however, there's always the second hand market and it's not always bad news...
Why buy a used camera?
Timelapse is a fairly unique sport and requires reliable kit as you'll be chugging through your shutter count in no time (unless you're that wedding photographer I once witnessed who pretty much held his shutter button down for the whole day like he was going to miss a shot every other nanosecond). Practice shoots and learning the art saw me going through over 150,000 actuations in my first year with my first Canon 5D and it was always in the back of my mind that one day it will give up.
You may be looking to upgrade but don't quite yet have the budget for new or you might just want a second body as a back up which is highly recommended. There is nothing wrong with buying a used camera if it's been looked after well. I've bought them for situations where the camera may come off badly during a shoot, for personal use and for experiments where insurance doesn't cover me!
There are risks involved, certainly, and as long as you do your research, you should be fine.
Choose your source wisely
There's a plethora of second hand kit knocking around out there and there's definitely some bargains to be had. Hobbies come and go out of fashion very quickly. That year long gym membership you bought and only went once? It works the same way with cameras and the amount of almost brand new bodies out there from people that simply 'gave up' are there for the taking.
There's many a story of people buying from ebay and receiving a box with nothing in it but a brick but ebay does give you an opportunity to ask questions to the seller and find out if they've a reputable score. You're also protected if you buy with Paypal so it's not all bad news if you do get double crossed.
There are also many independent camera shops out there which give you a chance to get some hands-on action before you buy. Be careful though - what may look like a nearly new camera could be hiding a whole host of problems...
What to look out for
- Shutter Count - The lower the better. It's not a sign of how little it's been used (see next point) but if you can find out then it's worth knowing. Some cameras will display this but others can be plugged into a computer and there are many programs available to find the count. Looking for a mirrorless camera? These still have a shelf life otherwise manufacturers would go out of business - the next point is for you
- Dead / Hot / Sticky pixels - Sensors can become extremely hot when used for video or long exposures at high ISOs and over time, this may result in dead pixels on the sensor. Your camera could have a relatively small shutter count but it could have been used for hours for video so it's worth finding out about the sensor if you can. Take a long exposure at around 1000 ISO with the body cap on then zoom in and have a look around. Out of the millions of pixels, there'll always be one or two but if there's a few clumped together, you may have a problem, especially if you're shooting a slider move as you'll need to remove them in the edit, frame by frame and nobody wants to do that.
- Dirty sensor - Take a long exposure shot with a lens on at f22 or higher and hold a piece of white paper in front of the lens whilst pointing at a light source - feel free to move the paper around. Zoom in on the pic and you'll see how dirty the sensor is. Sensor cleaning is easy but there are times when certain dirt just doesn't want to move so you'll need to send the camera to be serviced which is an extra cost you don't want.
- Pricing - Do your research on your model. If it's too good to be true then it probably is. Independent camera stores will likely charge a little extra but it does give you the opportunity to get a hands on test and practice your haggling skills.
- Wear and tear - Check all the buttons, open the battery compartment, look for scratches on the screen. The grip will always show signs of wear over a long period of time and make sure you take some pics if you can.
I understand completely that you may not be able to carry out all these tests in a store and especially not online but I'd advise you do if at all possible!
One more thing to note is that most stores only offer a 'Goodwill' returns policy so should you want to return something, you may only receive a credit note back or voucher. As far as I'm aware the law only comes into effect when the item is damaged upon receipt so be careful when purchasing as you may not be able to return it.
- A perfect Practice Machine for beginners - you'll only learn by making mistakes
- Useful second body for multiple shots in one location or as a spare
- Saves you money to spend on an additional lens or more kit - you can never have enough ;-)
- Gives you a chance to upgrade to the next model without splashing out the big bucks
- You may not be able to return it once purchased
- It will become an expensive paperweight if you've not done your research.
Hopefully I've covered everything but if you do have any questions or additional tips then leave them in the comments section below and I'll answer as soon as possible. In the meantime, I'll leave you with my recent showreel, some of which was shot on used cameras - can you spot which clips were?
As always, thanks for reading and if you have gained any knowledge from this or feel that you've just wasted part of your life somehow, follow me at one of the SM sites below and air your views: